Moving Ahead, Too

Danny White, Senior Associate Athletics Director/Executive Director of the UMAA Foundation, talks about the Forward Together campaign with Editor of The Ole Miss Spirit, Jeff Roberson. The following is the second of a two-part series.

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Q: Is everything still on schedule as far as a timeline for groundbreaking and completion of the facilities as far as you can predict at this point?

White: I mentioned conservative price points relative to our league to try to make it as affordable as we could. We also have a conservative timeline. The dates that we've talked about in terms of the arena to open for the 2015-16 season, we feel comfortable with that at this point in the campaign with the progress. It will take about a year to design it. Our intention is to hire the architects to design the building this summer. Then it will take two years in construction and it will be open somewhere around summer or early fall 2015. We feel very comfortable with the arena timeline. We're hopeful the renovations to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium will happen around that same time, hopefully at the same time we're doing the arena. We're not sure yet at this point. But I have no reason to think that they wouldn't. We'll know more as we get further into the winter. In terms of the north end zone expansion, we've been up front all along that there's a question mark on that (timetable). It's really predicated on us selling out the existing club seats and suites and then going ahead and start selling the north end zone inventory. That could happen very quickly, or it could end up being a couple of years behind the arena. We're not sure at this point. As we get further into the campaign, we'll know more.

Q: How did you decide what needed to be done as far as improvements or new facilities, and what facilities did you look at to get ideas?

White: We're fortunate to be working with, if not the best, one of the best sports architectural firms in the world in AECOM, formerly Ellerbe Becket. They've designed and worked with some phenomenal projects. The FedEx Forum (in Memphis) which many feel is one of the best, if not the best, basketball arenas in the country. The major renovation at the Superdome. They've done projects all across the NFL, the NBA, and also college athletics. The basketball arena at Virginia. Missouri State just completed a (basketball arena) project. We looked at dozens of projects both on site and also with them looking through digital images. It's helpful to have that as a resource to work with those folks who have been very close to those projects, and been able to tell us what worked and what didn't as we determined the best fit and the best priorities for Ole Miss.

Danny White, Andy Kennedy discuss the facilities campaign at the August announcement
Bruce Newman

Q: I'm sure you keep your eyes open when you go to other football or basketball venues now with the planning going on here.

White: I haven't just done that the last year or two when I've been working on the planning part of this campaign. I've been doing that for a long time, since I started my career. You work a long time to have an opportunity to work on a campaign like this. Certainly I'm fortunate and it's a very exciting opportunity for myself and my staff. We always have eyes open at athletic venues to steal ideas.

Q: Phase I is the new arena and also upgrades at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. More specifically, what are the upgrades fans can expect in Phase I at the football stadium?

White: It's going to be significant. We're thinking somewhere in the 20 to 25 million dollar range on the renovations. A lot of the main areas, concourses, restrooms, concessions, the main core areas of that stadium were built for a smaller stadium. It's been expanded a couple of times, and if we're going to expand it again, we really need to get the infrastructure up. And some of the aesthetic stuff, to really make it a first-class environment as our fans get to the stadium and throughout their whole experience. Then also some of the existing premium areas, the (East Side) Rebel Club, the South End Zone Club, the South Suites, and the West Sky Boxes. So much of our funding is coming from those sources. We're re-valuing those seats to something that is more competitive within the conference. We also believe we need to provide a little better experience in those areas, and we're going to work to improve those areas as well.

Q: So when can fans find out where their seats might be at these venues? Is it too early to begin thinking along those lines?

White: It's not too early. It's a little early. But I encourage anyone who is looking for good seats, now is a perfect time to stake your claim in the new basketball arena and in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium for you and your family for decades to come. It's a great opportunity to get good seats. There is going to be tremendous shuffling as everyone decides where they want to be for a long time. I encourage everyone to call our office at 662-915-7159 and talk to any of our folks that can help. As we get past the Jan. 6 deadline for existing seat holders, that's when we'll really focus on new people. Because we'll know more what's available, what seats weren't taken. People can call right now and put a reservation in for great seats, both in the new arena and in the stadium.

Q: Have most people been receptive to the drawings and diagrams of the venues that they've been able to see?

White: Everyone's got ideas, but by and large the overwhelming majority and response has been that people are excited. When you get those renderings up there and they see what we can do with this athletic department, folks have really responded positively. They're just very, very excited.

Q: A bit off the subject here, how's your brother at Louisiana Tech? Everybody misses Michael around here, but I know he's fulfilling his dream of being a Division I head basketball coach.

White: We speak all the time. I started as a basketball coach for a little bit but never got the opportunity to be a head coach. So I'm always checking in on him, a little bit jealous he gets to call the plays. But he's really enjoying it. They're 4-4. He's playing with a lot of younger guys. He's excited about the opportunity, and he loves the people he works for. The athletics director down there, Bruce Van De Velde, does a tremendous job and has been very supportive. He's in a great situation and is focused on building Louisiana Tech basketball for the long haul.

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